One kind of weak episode followed by one kind of strong episode. Yin and Yang. Peanut butter and chocolate. That sort of thing. The bottom line is that zombies are back drop and this show lives and dies by characterization. The weak episode focused on Andrea and the Governor, who have become tiresome. The strong episode focused on black-sheep brother Merle, who was a breath of fresh air.
The good: Some reasonable attempts at suspense. The Bad: The Governor becomes a stock slasher villain, sort of a Michael Myers who talks. The Ugly: Kind of circular and pointless. Still, I can tolerate that since the Governor probably isn’t long for the world at this point. Like most Governors, he’s just reaching the point of diminishing returns.
We open with a gratuitous flashback of Andrea and Michonne in their pre-Woodbury days. It’s not particularly insightful. Oh, and the Governor is looking creepy, borderline rapturous, as he plays with chains in his budding torture chamber.
Two disturbing developments at Woodbury are the main thrust of the episode’s first half. Martinez is prepping the assault to wipe out Rick’s folk when he delivers Michonne to the Governor (which we know he won’t). Simultaneously, the Governor is preparing his torture chamber for Michonne with loving craftsmanship.
As I said—Yuck.
Andrea and Milton have both had enough. I concur. Andrea wants to try and kill the Governor. Milton says she probably can’t, and even if she could it won’t save her friends. Martinez and company will still attack. He tells her to go warn Rick and company at the prison and get them to leave. She eventually does. Inevitably, the Governor finds out. So Andrea is this episode’s prey.
I’ve been irritated with Andrea this season, but I’ll give her this—she’s quite the runner. We see her sprinting off from Woodbury, then rejoin her still sprinting miles away. She must have been a marathoner in the good old days. She dodges off the road to escape observation as the Governor tools along after her in a pickup. Kills a couple of walkers, too. Points for grossness when she breaks a decaying arm off and impales one of them with it.
Back at Woodbury, we see where the Governor gets his supply of walkers for things like gladiatorial combat and walker bombs. He has a pit that catches them. Tyrese thinks it’s inexcusable to sic walkers on anyone, which leads to a forced confrontation with his previous pal Allen. We don’t know them. Therefore, we have no investment in the cryptic back story they’re arguing about. Whatever.
The above scene, however, leads to the headliner gross out for this episode. Later that night, we see someone pull up in a truck, pour gasoline, and burn all the walkers prepped for the attack on Rick. The next morning we get to see burned up walkers with their eyes open.
The rest of our episode is the Governor chasing Andrea. He drives a truck across a field at her. She escapes into the woods. She arrives at an abandoned warehouse. He pulls up thirty seconds later. She hides. He whistles. Eventually, she discovers a stairwell full of walkers who apparently can’t get to the first floor because the stair door is shut. The suspense is supposed to be building, but I’m wondering why all these people died on the second floor. Maybe those OSHA cuts from the Congressional sequester had an impact after all. Anyway. she sics the stairwell walkers on the Governor, who appears done for,
But honestly, would that stop Michael Myers? I don’t think so. And sure enough, in a really forced conclusion, Andrea arrives at the prison and is about to call out to Rick only to get seized by Governor Michael rearing up from behind.
Honestly. That happened. All we needed was for Donald Pleasance to come rushing out of the bushes shouting “Eeeeevil.” Then a walker would chomp on his neck, this show being what it is.
The final payoff? A shot of a fully dressed Andrea tied up in the Governor’s torture chair back in Woodbury.
So basically, we ended up where we began. The circle of life at its most pointless.
“This Sorrowful Life”
After getting the Mayberry post-meeting developments, we get the prison post-meeting developments. The prison is more interesting, despite being a drearier place. As noted, that’s because characterization matters.
The crux of the opening dilemma is that Rick is having second thoughts: should he give Michonne to the Governor if it saves his group? Of course, we know the Governor will kill everyone anyway, but they don’t. Rick decides he should, even if Hershel and Darryl seem nonplussed. Therefore, Rick needs a true bastard on his side—Merle.
The conversation between Rick and Merle is good. Lots of decent dialogue in this episode. In this case, Merle is having none of Rick’s pretensions. He tells him they’ll need wire to tie her, not rope she can chew through; he describes in disturbing detail what the Governor will do to Michonne. And he doubts Rick has the spine for this.
Merle and Darryl have a good conversation as well. Merle reiterates his judgment of the good sheriff: “He’s gonna’ buckle.” He even asks Darryl if he wants Rick to buckle. Merle’s a bad enough man to know everyone’s weak point, but still human enough to regret it. And sure enough, Rick is out in the yard buckling as he sees a vision of Lori. So Merle knows what to do. What everyone expects him to do, what the Governor expected of him, and now what these good people need as well. As Michonne puts it, “someone to empty the piss bucket.”
Merle bushwhacks Michonne, ties her up with wire and heads to the Governor’s prearranged delivery point. So the heart of our episode becomes a road trip with Merle and Michonne. Good stuff. Michonne says more in three scenes than she’s said in multiple episodes. The best line comes from Merle: “You play the hand you’re dealt, and I only got one left.” Michonne comes in a close second when Merle snarls at her about the weight on his soul: “A truly bad man is as light as a feather, feels nothing.”
They stop at a motel. Merle ties Michonne to a post. But when he gets a car started, its burglar alarm goes off. Nice and loud to draw in walkers. Michonne is bad ass even for her. Tied to that post, she kicks one walker down and stomps his head flat before swirling about a second to wrap the wire around its neck. Then she pulls the wire to decapitate against the post. That’s both the show’s signature gross out moment for this episode and an unbelievably cool sequence. Give a gold star for getting those two to synch up.
Ultimately, Merle cuts Michonne loose. She tells him they can both go back, but he can’t. He’ll always be the guy people turn to for things they won’t do themselves, and he doesn’t want to be that anymore. He’s on a suicide run to take out as many of the Governor’s forces as he can.
It’s a nifty little attack he launches. He starts playing rock and roll real loud on the car’s CD, driving slow and collecting walkers along the way. He drives into the ambush the Governor has waiting, but ducks and rolls out of the car right before reaching it. The car crashes forward. As the Governor’s forces react, they’re confronted by a mini-horde of walkers. No problem, right. They’re well armed. But as with all this show’s best moments, the walkers aren’t the point.
Merle wants everyone firing at the walkers. That way they won’t hear him sniping them one at a time as he runs about. Merle is indeed a very useful guy to have around for a zombie apocalypse. He kills eight or nine of the Governor’s front line troops, which if previous discussions are to be believed, is a big deal. That’s one-quarter to one-third of the Governor’s force. Alas, he’s shot by the big bad Governor Michael himself in the end.
We even get three decent bits of humanity this episode. In the first, Glen asks Hershel’s permission to marry Maggie, then gives her a ring. He got it off a female walker, but it’s the thought that counts, right? That and hopefully a whole lot of bleach.
Second, Rick realizes that he’s crossed the line. He made a decision that was wrong, set in motion the events playing out between Merle, Michonne and Darryl. He’s not a Governor, and he’s through treating people this way. From now on, they vote. Yeah, democracy, the worst form of government in existence with the exception of all the others. Apologies to Winston.
The third, last, and most powerful occurs when Darryl reaches the now abandoned scene of the shootout. He met Michonne on the way, who told him Merle let her go. He finds Merle as a walker munching on one of the dead soldiers. He’s genuinely devastated, really did love his black sheep older brother. The tears feel real this time, especially when he just keeps pushing walker Merle away, three times before working up the courage to put him down, then to keep stabbing this travesty of his brother over and over.
Darryl’s a good guy. And Merle wasn’t a totally bad guy in the end. Even Michonne knew that, giving the devil his due. That’s good drama, and exactly the type of thing this show needs to keep from becoming a soulless gross out.
Self sacrifice to protect others is a good thing. So is respect for it.
Will conservatives like these episodes: Andrea and the Guv—meh. Merle, sure. Guns guts and glory, with even a slight touch of redemption.